first item on my “wish list” for new LCMS President Matthew Harrison was to keep our focus on sinners (referring to himself and us) and their need for the forgiveness that only Jesus (not synodical bureaucracy, bylaws or resolutions, etc.) can give. Aside from this first item being most important and thus placed first in order and priority, subsequent items really have no priority other than when I happen to think of them and write them up.
I also tried to clarify and qualify the purpose of my “wish list.” No, I do not set Pres. Harrison’s agenda, and no, I really don’t expect my words to be seriously entertained as agenda items. These posts are merely “a view from the pew” from a simple parish pastor – in an office divinely instituted by Christ Himself – spoken to one who now occupies a high and lofty – yet humanly instituted – office. If he reads and hearkens, fine. But these “wish list” items are chiefly intended for consideration and conversation in this forum.
So, on to Item #2. If I could offer our new synodical president my “wish list” for how he can best serve our church body, I would say next: Mr. President, please do not give us missions brow beatings or evangelism guilt trips. Instead of haranguing us to perform some burdensome chore (as though not doing mission work will cause the world to implode and the LCMS to disappear from history's radar screen), inspire us and lead us in the joyous mission task of proclaiming our glorious and gracious Savior and His good gifts.
You see, Mr. President, haranguing us to "get out" and “fulfill” (Can that actually be accomplished this side of heaven?) the Great Commission is not what we need. Yes, our Lord has certainly summoned us, His Church, both clergy and laity, to “make disciples” (Mt. 28), “proclaim the Gospel” (Mk. 16), proclaim “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk. 24), and “forgive the sins of anyone” (Jn. 20). But constantly thumping us on the head and pulling us by the ear with mandates of “Get out and go, go, go!” or “Witness, witness, witness!” because, after all, so many people are going to hell with every passing moment or every snap of the finger? Well, let’s just say chicanery is not really necessary, nor is it becoming of Christ's holy people.
Missions brow-beatings in general remind me of a small though pesky thing from seminary days. The Daily Announcements used to include a brief feature called "Mission Minute." Those pesky little bulletin blurbs were well intended, I’m sure, in wanting to keep the Lord’s mission foremost in our hearts and minds. However, I also recall the typical guilt-trip tones and unwritten assumption that sent a clear, and perhaps unintended, message: "You just don’t care enough about missions! You don't quite yet have a 'heart for missions.'" I also recall (as clearly as 20 years down the timeline will allow) several seminary buddies and I pondering: "Hmm. What are we doing studying at the seminary and preparing to serve as pastors if not to carry out the Lord’s mission?"
Guilt-trips and harangues really don't further the Church's missionary task; rather, they produce, well, only burdensome guilt. I distinctly remember one dear man from a former parish who was so burdened about that unsaved person on the other side of the globe in India. "What should I do about him?" he would ask in Bible class. Aside from buying a plane ticket and going to track down that unspecified, unnamed person seared in his consciousness, perhaps pray for him and let the Lord take care of him? But the man in my former parish just could not unload the burden.
Please don't misunderstand. I'm not trying to be callous or indifferent toward those who do not trust Jesus Christ for their forgiveness, life, and salvation. Far from it! I most certainly want everyone possible to join in the life of Christ in the life of the Church and for life eternal. But is their potential damnation caused by my/our stumbling, even failing, mission efforts? Will the Lord of the Church hold me, for example, responsible for one or more of those folks who reject Christ and end up separated from His love and life for all eternity? What about those words from Deuteronomy 24:16: "Each one shall be put to death for his own sin"?
No, the mission of the Church cannot and dare not be inspired or motivated by snapping fingers or tabulating how many people have gone to hell since I started writing these words or you started reading them. We need some other motivator, some better, more Gospel-centered and Christ-focused inspiration.
We need love ... and joy.
Yes, love. Not fear of folks going to hell; not guilt for not doing enough to prevent them from entering hell; but love. Love for our neighbor who does not know Christ Jesus. The great love that flows from the Lord who loved us and died on a cross to rescue us from sin and death and eternal separation from Him. Mr. President, please lead and motivate us to reach out to our sin-infected, death-bound neighbors out of love for them, with the same love that Christ has already shown us.
And yes, we need joy in our mission work. Who cares how many souls we may or may not divert from perdition's flames, or how many souls we can tabulate for congregational or synodical rosters? That's not the point! The point is that we want our family, our friends, our neighbors, and even that homeless, unemployed man down the street to join us in the joy of sins forgiven now, the joy of life with God now, the joy of peace in Christ's presence now, as well as the joy of living together with them and with the Holy Trinity for all eternity.
We need to learn and treasure the mission work that our Lord has given us - indeed that He carries on in our midst - week in and week out. Yes, the mission work is being done when a person, young or old, is baptized at the font. Yes, the mission work is being done when sinners are hearing that their sins are forgiven, both corporately from the pulpit and individually in the sacrament of Absolution. Yes, the mission work is being done when Christ's people gather around His Table to feast on His life-giving Body and Blood. And, yes, the mission work is being done when Christians leave the Lord's house, return to their own homes and daily live holy lives and bear witness to the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus in their daily vocations. Mr. President, please keep reminding us that our Lord is actually carrying out His mission in these ways and through us earthen (cracked-pot?) vessels.
At the risk of sounding too simplistic, our mission work needs to look less like the business man meeting his quota of products sold and delivered. Instead, it needs to look more like the young lady who has just received an engagement ring. She doesn't need to be cajoled, harangued, or coerced to show it off and announce to any and all who will listen, "I'm getting married!" No, she does all of that quite naturally and even with a certain improptu and vivacious spirit. She does it out of sheer joy that the one she loves wants to spend the rest of his life with her.
Our mission work, Mr. President, needs to be like that--inspired and motivated by the sheer joy that the One who died and rose for us loves us sinners more than we can either deserve or fathom, and He wants to spend all of eternity - all of His life - with us. With such an engagement to our heavenly Bridegroom, we cannot but show off the jeweled "ring" of His Gospel goodness and mercy.